The Long Halloween and, as such, should be compared to it. For this book does not live up to the standards of The Dark Knight Returns, The Killing Joke, Red Son, or Watchmen--the four graphic novels that I have decided represent the pinnacles of the medium. It is on par with The Long Halloween, and I would state that it is slightly better, because there is only one inconceivable plot twist at the end, rather than several.
The prologue picks up where The Long Halloween left off--essentially retelling the story of the serial killer "Holiday." We see Holiday in Arkham Asylum being interviewed by the new Gotham District Attorney, Janice Porter. Porter wants to reopen Holiday's case on the grounds that the police committed a violation of the 8th amendment in their capture of him (he endured "quite a beating"). Commissioner Gordon does not think this is wise but the D.A does not need his approval to reopen the case. Batman shows up right after and Gordon says, "I miss him." Batman says, "Don't."
Chapter 1, "War" recreates a scene that is by now, more than familiar: Batman's origin story. However we also see Carmine "The Roman" Falcone tell a young Bruce Wayne that his father saved his life, and that if he ever needed a favor, he knew who to call. We then see a major character in Dark Victory, Sofia Falcone Gigante, "The Roman's" daughter. Members from another crime family, the Maronis, are present in this sort of funereal ceremony. Batman is watching and Selina Kyle is inside. The place gets busted up, but nobody "big" is captured by Gordon. We then see Selina Kyle visit Bruce Wayne while he is swimming in his pool, accompanied by another member of the Falcone family. We then see Janice Porter visit Gordon again:
"District Attorney Janice Porter. As a result of Harvey Dent's removal from office, the City Council moved quickly to replace him. Harvard Law, top of her class. Six years as D.A. in Boston. A lot of experience in a short amount of time. But Boston is not Gotham City." (35)
So at least we know that (it's not Chicago, either, which is where Gordon came from).
We also see the Gotham City Bridge on page 42 and it looks a lot like the Brooklyn Bridge. Also, remember a key scene from The Dark Knight Rises--Gotham City is unmistakably New York City. And it is with deep regret that I must take a moment from this review and state that I will not be able to film Batman in Brooklyn because I will be leaving this place in about a month. It is with a very heavy heart that I announce this, but instead we will have to move forward with Back to the Future Part 2: Present, which will star my younger brother in Michael J. Fox's multiple roles in that film, and I will play Doc. If anyone wants to make Batman in Brooklyn, however, I will gladly help to produce the film and help with the screenwriting. Moving on...
Shortly after this (still on "War") it is Halloween night--the one year anniversary of "The Roman's" death. Amazingly, we see Batman visit Two-Face in Arkham Asylum, during which mayhem ensues. Poison Ivy makes an appearance, "Holday" stays in his cell even though the glass has been shattered, and Two-Face escapes. Then, the scene shifts to a courtroom, where Judge Harkness allows "Holiday" to be kept under house arrest with an electronic monitor kept on his leg at all times. Then we see that one police officer has been hanged, and many of Harvey Dent's files have been stolen from the D.A.'s office. Attached to the hanged policeman's chest is a note, with a drawing of the children's game Hangman:
"N_NE _F Y__ _RE S_FE" (64)
The next chapter, "Secrets" involves Batman's attempt to solve the riddle by asking, who else, The Riddler. We then see what happens to former Commissioner Loeb. At this point, I am going to stop with the plot retelling because I do not want to spoil the rest. Suffice to say that The Long Halloween is about a series of unsolved murders of members of crime families, and Dark Victory is about a series of unsolved murders of police officers. In a sense this makes it like Year One, but that is more about Batman's first forays into crime-fighting and police corruption. Dark Victory is sort of like all of these books mashed up into one--with Robin as the defining element, as noted on the cover.
All villains in the rogue's gallery make appearances: Poison Ivy, Joker, Catwoman, Riddler, Two-Face, Solomon Grundy, the Calendar Man, Scarecrow and notably, Mr. Freeze. But this is really about the crime families. And it is really about The Long Halloween, or a new way to interpret that book.
There is a great scene where Harvey Dent represents himself in court, and when asked if he swears to tell the truth he says, "I can't answer that question...because I'm not Harvey Dent. The name is Two-Face." (304)
There is also a nice little tidbit that Janice Porter went to Gotham University Law School while Harvey Dent was a young professor there, and that she transferred to Harvard. In her Harvard yearbook it reads "Voted most likely to be D.A. Favorite subject: criminal law."
Brooklyn Law School will not be putting out a yearbook this year, sadly. I would like to put this under my picture if it did: "Voted most likely to be the first Supreme Court justice with a mediocre performance in law school; favorite subject: bankruptcy." Of course our school does not take such votes, probably because few people know a majority of their 477 classmates. Harvard is even bigger, and I would be interested to know if they publish such a yearbook (I have my doubts).
Before we conclude, it is worth noting in passing that Batman "sees himself" in Robin and initially is not really cool with the idea of having a sidekick. Mostly we see Alfred supervising Dick Grayson (who is about 13--maybe slightly younger than his female version in The Dark Knight Returns), but Batman does offer a few words:
"Dick Grayson has been living in Wayne Manor. It has been a...difficult transition. For both of us. And I cannot help but wonder if I have made a mistake by interceding in the boy's life. My attention has been splintered. I will find out who killed Dick's parents. He needs that closure. But, tonight is a holiday and I am needed elswhere." (264-265)
Later, Batman reveals his true identity to Dick Grayson and it signals the moment in which their partnership will begin.
That's most of what I wanted to say about this book. It's a quality read (and as always, the illustration is fantastic) but it's not an example of the height of the genre. There may be still another sequel to this book (Haunted Knight?) and I would gladly read it, though I would not have high expectations.
As a final note I do not think the Superman franchise was catapulted into the same league as the Batman franchise by its most recent film. I did not see it, but the popularity at the box office is the barometer by which I measure the popularity of the superheroes. Red Son should be made into a movie--THAT would be AWESOME. But I don't think the world is ready for that yet.
The Long Halloween and Dark Victory could be made into movies, but they'd be too complicated. And I recently watched an animated film of Batman: Year One which was a very faithful and quality adaptation of the book. But I don't think there's enough material for a movie--or at least people might not be as interested in it, because I really believe Jim Gordon is the protagonist of that book, and not Batman. Still (since Batman in Brooklyn is on indefinite hiatus) The Dark Knight Returns could be made and I have very little doubt that it would do every bit as well at the box office as any of the three recent films (if not better).